Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Another Perspective on Confessing Sins Publicly

Ken Stewart--whose comments on this blog are a model of what thoughtful commenting should look like--left the following note on my excerpt from Piper's 1987 sermon on confession. I thought it was helpful and worth highlighting here:
There is a whole other side to this question besides what is set out in the posting and that is the issue of whether the consequences of such public confession are not more grave than that of not confessing in public.

Somewhere in his Systematic Theology Charles Hodge sets out the principle that public sins ought to be publicly confessed whereas private sins are best confessed in private.

To some, such a distinction will seem overly fastidious. I disagree. Think back to the reports from a decade or more ago about student revivals on various Christian campuses. Students were lined up at microphones to "confess" before whole auditoriums of people a lot of things that were very lurid and not in keeping with the cautions of Ephesians 5.3,4. What is there about the confession of sin that requires private shameful acts to be confessed before audiences of both genders, not bound by close relationship to the one confessing? That smacks of the courtroom, not Christian fellowship.

Or to think of another scenario: many of us have heard of congregations which try to take church discipline seriously by requiring not-yet-married couples,discovered to be promiscuous, to make open confession before the whole congregation with which they have been associated. Again, I ask--where is the fitness of making private sin this public? Surely there is a confession of sin, behind closed doors to the appropriate spiritual leaders, which accomplishes all the same good. [Having said this, I would add that the old practice of private confession to a priest--now making something of a comeback among Catholics--was so beset with priestly indiscretions that it became one of the best arguments for clerical marriage. All this to say that private confession is not trouble-free].

Surely confession of sin to another implies some clear relationship to exist which makes it especially appropriate for the one hearing the confession to hear it. Call it an accountability relationship if you will. I do not agree that the magazine editor wanting to book a photo shoot (even as a believer) is a person with which such an accountability relationship must be reckoned to occur. Wouldn't it have been sufficient simply to have declined tactfully? (This is not to say that some great principle was violated by what JP did under the circumstances). I find it hard to question Charles Hodges' wisdom on this point.